The tech solutions helping to improve livelihoods of African farmers

From fingerprint contracts to alternative insurance scoring, here are some innovative technologies being used to increase yields and income for smallholders

The tech solutions helping to improve livelihoods of African farmers
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The SF1 solar pump is low-cost, highly efficient and portable.
Photograph: IWMI and www.jefferymwalcott.com

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This article titled “The tech solutions helping to improve livelihoods of African farmers” was written by Daniel Wesangula and Sarah LaBrecque, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 25th January 2017 13.04 UTC

Solar pumps

Unpredictable rainfall means small-scale farmers often need to invest in irrigation. However, many irrigation products are either unaffordable, difficult to maintain or are not suitable for a small farm. In contrast, the SF1 solar pump produced by FuturePump is targeted towards “the world’s one acre farmers”. It’s low-cost, highly efficient and portable. Futurepump has now sold over 1,000 pumps across 18 countries and is looking for distribution partners outside Africa.

Virtual marketplaces

M-Farm Limited is a software solution and agribusiness company based in Nairobi, Kenya. Farmers text a short code from their mobile handsets and get an array of information pertaining to the retail price of their products. Farmers can also use it to buy farm inputs directly from manufacturers at favourable prices, and find buyers for their produce, thus eliminating middlemen on either side of the business. During his 2015 visit to Kenya, Barack Obama recognised Jamila Abass, CEO and co-founder of M-Farm, as an example of young Kenyans who give him hope for the future.

Farmers using the M-Farm solution.
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Farmers using the M-Farm solution. Photograph: M-Farm

Another company using mobile handsets to provide agricultural information is Esoko. They are a for-profit company with a mission to make agriculture profitable for smallholders, through mobile commerce. Their platform connects farmers to suppliers, financial institutions and agribusinesses through a virtual marketplace which allows them to save and borrow towards discounted inputs. Esoko operates in countries such as Uganda, Burkina Faso and Benin and is headquartered in Ghana. The company has over 350,000 farmers profiled and claims to have increased farmer incomes by 10%.

Better weather monitoring

Knowing what weather to expect is crucial for farmers so they can tend to their crops appropriately. Only 10 out of 54 African countries offer adequate meteorological services, however. The Trans-African HydroMeteorological Observatory (TAHMO), is developing a network of 20,000 weather monitoring stations at schools across sub-Saharan Africa. The data collected by TAHMO will be sold to insurance companies, who will then be able to offer cost-effective crop insurance to smallholder farmers. Additionally, mobile phone companies can buy the data so as to provide weather information as an additional service to their farming customers.

The Wanyange Girls Secondary School wildlife club with their weather station.
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The Wanyange Girls Secondary School wildlife club with their weather station. Photograph: TAHMO

Tech to connect the unbanked

FarmDrive is a Kenyan-based social enterprise that connects unbanked smallholders to financial services, while helping financial institutions increase their agricultural loan portfolios. Potentially creditworthy farmers are often denied loans because they lack the traditional credit profiles that lenders rely on. Financial institutions do not have well-designed methods of assessing farmers’ risk, making them reluctant to lend. FarmDrive’s alternative method to credit scoring solves this problem by using aggregated datasets. They have now facilitated loans totaling over $130,000 (£104,500).

Electronic contracts

Diageo has committed to sourcing 80% of its agricultural raw materials locally in Africa by 2020. In 2012 they acquired the Ethiopian Meta Abo Brewing company. In a value chain of thousands of dispersed rural farmers and with Meta Abo requiring thousands of tonnes of barley a year, realising this goal is complex. An electronic contract between the brewery and each farmer, which uses bio-metric technology and fingerprinting, has helped forge direct relationships. Central to these contracts is a partnership with NGO, Technoserve, who provide a comprehensive support package.

Content on this page is paid for and produced to a brief agreed with Diageo, sponsor of the Spotlight on Africa series

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